Tried and Tested: Birmingham

Tried and Tested: Birmingham

Tried and Tested: Birmingham

By Victoria Jackson, Lorraine Evans and Rachel Potts.

Birmingham collage

"A city break to Birmingham?" We hear you ask...well yes.

This year, our travelling Citybasers had the pleasure of enjoying three very different trips to Birmingham.

Lorraine Evans, our Digital Marketing Specialist, paid a visit to the city for a weekend break with her husband and their two year old daughter, whilst Marketing Communications Manager, Victoria Jackson enjoyed a weekend of shopping and exploring with her sister-in-law. Meanwhile, our Marketing Support, Hannah Yard, was invited on her first familiarisation trip Birmingham, along with seven other Citybase travellers, and was hosted by none other than Staybridge Suites Birmingham.

Victoria's Visit

Victoria & her shopping partner Louise stayed at  Premier Suites & The Post Box &, armed with everything there is to see & do in Birmingham (courtesy of the Citybase blog - obviously) went to see if Birmingham can really punch its weight alongside other citybreak hotspots like Edinburgh and Manchester for things to do, and places to shop, eat and drink.

“We arrived in Birmingham on Friday afternoon.  Its central location was a benefit for us as we were both getting the train, Lou from London (about 90 minutes) and me from Lancaster (about two hours) which makes it a great choice if you're arriving with people from different parts of the country. The last time I was in Birmingham was around 2009 and the arrival into New Street left a lot to be desired. It was a bit dark and unwelcoming, and not somewhere you’d want to hang around. Since its redevelopment was finished in 2015, the station has seriously raised its game and is virtually unrecognisable. With more than sixty high-end stores including John Lewis, Jo Malone and The White Company, a champagne bar and loads of places to grab a bite to eat within a stunning atrium, we could have spent hours wandering around the shops, but after an hour in the bar, we headed to our first apartment for the weekend.

Our first night in Birmingham

Premier Suites is in a great location, just five minutes from the shops and restaurants in the Bullring. The apartments are spacious and comfortable: perfect for families, couples or groups looking to be in the heart of the action. The staff on reception were really helpful and recommended lots of places we should visit. We started with a few drinks in our apartment, a wander around the Bullring and some dinner. Then headed for drinks at the Arcadian - a kind of outdoor/indoor collection of lively bars in the city's Chinese Quarter, and , conveniently only a short walk from our apartment.

Exploring Birmingham

After a good night's sleep, and a leisurely breakfast in our sitting room, we checked out of Premier Suites, hit the shops and did some exploring. The city is very compact, which makes it quick and easy to take in some really nice areas. We walked along the canal to Brindleyplace where there was a chocolate festival, had some lunch and enjoyed the hustle and bustle of the city. We had a busy day hitting the shops and enjoying some sister-time; it was a treat to come back & chill for a bit at our second Birmingham bolthole, The Post Box by BridgeStreet. The Postbox Apartments offer city living at its best; just a short walk  from our favourite shopping spot The Mailbox, home to my beloved Harvey Nics, & a great selection of canalside bars and restaurants. Which was where we headed for dinner and drinks on Saturday night.  Gas Street Social, The Distillery and The Canal House are all great choices if you're *somewhat* older than student age but still looking for a lively atmosphere, nice food and cocktails. We decided not to have another late night and, instead, decided to return to our apartment and watch a film with a good bottle of wine. On Sunday morning, we checked out of our apartment and, after some brunch at Cote Brasserie, there was just time for another quick shopping trip to get some presents for our kids before we hopped on our respective trains home. Having not spent much time in Birmingham before - except in an office - it was really nice to get a feel of it as a city-break destination. It's a friendly and safe-feeling city, which I would be happy to return to for a weekend with my kids or some friends. There were loads of things that we didn't have time to do, such as the restored 19th century Back to Back houses and an open top bus tour, although the great British weather put a dampener on those. We had a great trip here and would definitely come back again."

Lorraine's Visit

Next up, Lorraine Evans, her husband and their daughter visited Birmingham. They went to see whether there was enough to keep both the adults and a pre-schooler entertained for a weekend.

Getting to Birmingham

"We travelled to Birmingham New Street Station by train from Oxenholme, the direct journey took just over two hours and gave us chance to sit back and enjoy the journey with a couple of drinks, magazines and snacks. As soon as you step off the train and venture into New Street Station you have a great range of shops, bars and food outlets on offer, you can even head straight into the bullring and John Lewis without taking a step outside! We decided to explore the Bullring a little and as the sun was shining sat down outside a café for a drink to get our bearings, the sun maybe helped but my first impressions of the city were great. Nite Nite Apartments Birmingham: These apartments are in a great location, only a short walk from the Station and the Bullring. Check-in was quick and easy and the reception team were so warm and friendly. I was really impressed with the look and feel of theses apartments, it was all immaculate and they have really made great use of the space. We stayed in an ‘open plan one bedroom apartment’. Not only does it have a nice relaxing lounge area with a flat screen TV but there is also a 2nd TV in the bedroom! I also loved the quirky décor which made it a great space to relax in and for such a central location I was also surprised with how quiet it was, we both had a great night’s sleep. Nite Nite apartments also benefit from having the Mailbox shopping centre on their doorstep. Here you’ll find some of the best luxury brands including the department store Harvey Nichols, and a great selection of bars and restaurants. After relaxing in the apartment for a while we decided to freshen up and head out for dinner. I’m a bit of a researcher so after a quick Google search (using the free wi-fi) I saw one of Birmingham’s best rated Italian restaurants: Del Villagio was a short walk from our apartment.  Not only did this make it a convenient place to dine but it is easy to see why it is rated so highly - the service and food was excellent. A short walk down Broad Street takes you to Birmingham Canal old line and Brindleyplace. Here you’ll find even more restaurants and bars, many set in a scenic canal side location.

Things to do in Birmingham

As this was our first time in Birmingham we were keen to see some of the sights on offer. After a quick breakfast in the apartment we headed out to explore. First on the list was Symphony Hall which again is just a short walk down Broad Street. We then headed to the Library of Birmingham which is housed in the impressive blue and gold cuboid building. As well as being the largest public library in Europe it has a ‘secret garden’ outdoor area and impressive views of Birmingham from the top, plus it’s totally free too. Despite being a library, it was very child-friendly and there was so much to see that our daughter was able to happily explore. We also managed to fit it a walk to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, Victoria Square, and a stroll along one of the many canals! With our daughter in her buggy, there was plenty to keep her entertained, and the many squares and pedestrianised areas allowed plenty of opportunity to run around. If none of the restaurants take your fancy you even can pick up some luxury treats to have in your apartment from Harvey Nichols food market or there’s also good old Tesco Express. We opted for the budget-friendly latter and got some fresh pastries and fruit in for breakfast at the same time. After a nice long lie in and leisurely breakfast in the apartment we checked out and headed to the Bullring for some serious shopping before the train home. (No rushing here - you have until 12 to check out!) Before my visit I have to confess I’d heard mixed reports about Birmingham but we were very pleasantly surprised with everything the city had to offer. We had a great weekend and we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it for a break. I’m already planning my next trip there - hopefully to tie in with the German Christmas markets that the city boasts each year!

Visiting Birmingham - Top Tips

1. I was surprised how scenic the city is, especially considering its industrial past. I loved the Canals, especially walking along Gas Street basin between the Mailbox and Brindleyplace. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to restaurants and bars overlooking the water. Definitely the perfect place to enjoy a few drinks on a sunny afternoon. 2. Shopping! I’d heard a lot about shopping in Birmingham and it did not disappoint. You have everything on hand - with the designer stores in the Mailbox, high street retailers in the Bullring, unique jewellers in the historic jewellery quarter, plus a range of independent retailers and markets – there is honestly something for everyone. 3. The Library of Birmingham – In all honesty I’m not the biggest book worm but the library is well worth a visit. The building itself is very impressive but it also offers an outdoor secret garden, rooftop views of the city and the informative Shakespeare memorial room – all of which are free! 4. The city hosts lots of quirky festivals and events throughout the year; we stumbled upon Jamaica in the Square which was great fun, with music food and drink on offer. Take a look at visit Birmingham to find out what’s planned and when."

Hannah's Visit

Getting to the city

“I left Euston just after 5pm on a Friday afternoon and arrived into Birmingham about an hour and a half later. The journey was super easy and went by in a flash. It was great sharing a train with my fellow SilverDoorians. I used the opportunity to mingle with everyone, particularly those I don’t get to speak to that often. The sun was still since shining when we arrived into the city. We stayed at Staybridge Suites Birmingham, which is a short five minute walk from the main train station. The first thing that struck me about Birmingham is how buzzy it is. The city has a bustling atmosphere, and, what with the Friday rush, we were thrown right into the thick of it. I was really excited for the weekend ahead.

Staybridge Suites Birmingham

We couldn’t have asked for a better property. The apartments are situated right in the city centre and offer a friendly, welcoming atmosphere. The team who greeted us on arrival were super nice. They made the check-in process easy, despite us having a large group, and made us feel right at home. Each apartment was finished to a very high standard and everyone was happy with their rooms. My studio apartment was modern and stylish with comfortable furniture. It had a lovely purple theme running throughout it and it made excellent use of space. Upon arrival in my apartment, I was given a wonderful complimentary goody bag, which included chocolate and stroopwafels (Dutch caramel waffles to you and I). The apartment had everything I needed for my weekend away. After settling in, we headed down to the ‘den’ – which is communal lounge that features throughout Staybridge’s properties. Here, we were hosted by four members of the Staybridge team, who did a phenomenal job in adorning the place with Hawaiian decorations, in preparation for a Hawaiian-themed party which they hosted. There were drinks and nibbles, including a cheese-board, crisps and a variety of different dips. After the food, we played a selection of fun party games. After the party, we continued on to the Jam House: a live music venue, known for its jazz, blues and rock acts. We had the pleasure of taking in a live band, which added the perfect finishing touch to the day. With all the partying out the way, it was back to the property for a lovely night’s sleep. The next morning, we awoke to a delicious breakfast provided by the Staybridge team, including cereal, yoghurt and a Full English. Staybridge Suites Birmingham offers this breakfast service to all their guests, and I’d highly recommend it. Sadly, it was time to say our goodbyes. We bid the team a fond farewell and thanked them for their hospitality on what was a fabulous trip. With time to pass until our train, we decided to pay a visit to the Bullring Shopping Centre, which is located just a five minute walk from the apartment. This complex offers many stores, bars and restaurants, and is great for a spot of retail therapy in Birmingham. In summary, our trip to Birmingham was fantastic. I would recommend both the city and Staybridge Suites highly. I will definitely be making a trip back so that I can further explore the city."

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